CAPE ELIZABETH — The owners of the fast-growing Cape Chiropractic and Acupuncture practice want to build a medical office and apartment complex in the town center that’s alarming some residential neighbors.

Zev and Amber Myerowitz have submitted plans for two three-story buildings at 12 Hill Way, a short street that forms a land triangle at the intersection of Ocean House and Scott Dyer roads. The complex, which would be built next to a former Cumberland Farms gas station and convenience store, would feature ground-level office space and a total of 10 townhouse-style apartments on the second and third floors.

The town’s first proposal for multifamily rental housing in about a decade comes as many Greater Portland communities wrestle with a housing shortage, especially of affordable rentals suitable for families. The project, which is scheduled for a Planning Board hearing April 25, also answers the call for small-scale, mixed-use development outlined in the Town Center Plan that was adopted in 2014.

“We’ve basically designed the buildings that the town center planners wanted,” said Zev Myerowitz Jr., 32, a third-generation chiropractor who grew up in Bangor and specializes in acupuncture, oriental medicine and sports performance. Amber Myerowitz, 28, is a New York native and a certified chiropractic assistant who also practices acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine.

The couple have promised to preserve as many trees as possible on the 2-acre wooded lot and carefully design and landscape the project to minimize the appearance of the complex. They’ve also agreed to coordinate sidewalk and storm drain construction with roadwork that the town plans to do on the rest of Hill Way.

But some residents of the neighborhood off Hill Way are worried that the project would fuel a variety of traffic and safety problems, especially because it’s close to the town’s library, elementary school and middle school on Scott Dyer Road. They’re also concerned that the complex would be an unsightly addition to the town center and potentially lower property values.

“As a homeowner on Philip Road, I find this type of development unacceptable,” Jennifer Pollick wrote to the Planning Board. “The increase in traffic in a school and neighborhood zone would be horrible and unsafe for our children. … This type of development would adversely affect my home’s value. Nobody wants to live in a commercial zone.”

IMPACT ON PROPERTY VALUES

Jana and Deane Frank, who live on Rand Road, recommended in a letter to town officials that the project be “located closer to the town center,” though it is in the town center zone. If the project can’t be moved, the Franks asked that the developers maintain a buffer of trees on Hill Way “to obstruct the view of the (buildings),” reduce the buildings to two stories each in keeping with “the village scale” of Cape Elizabeth, and build the driveway access off Ocean House Road (Route 77) instead of Hill Way.

“This will help maintain the integrity of our neighborhood that we love and decrease the impact on property values,” Jana Frank wrote.

That some residents have taken exception to the Hill Way proposal doesn’t surprise Molly MacAuslan, the Town Council chairwoman.

“Change is always difficult,” MacAuslan said. “There is some sensitivity to having something new in the town center.”

However, MacAuslan said, Town Planner Maureen O’Meara, the Planning Board and the Town Center Plan Committee worked hard to develop appropriate standards for mixed-use development in the town center zone.

There’s also a real need for additional housing in a region that’s attracting workers who have a hard time finding housing, MacAuslan said.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development published a report last month that showed a need for 2,000 rental housing units in the next three years in the area concentrated around Portland. As of last fall, about 450 rental units were under construction, the report said.

MacAuslan said she will recommend that the town address diverse housing needs in an upcoming review of its 2007 comprehensive plan, including multifamily housing. That document said multifamily construction in Cape Elizabeth had peaked in the 1980s, when 23 units were built, but no new units had been constructed since the mid-1990s.

The median household income in Cape Elizabeth is $98,438 per year, which is more than double the statewide median household income of $48,804, according to the 2010-2014 American Community Survey. The median household income of the town’s homeowners is $104,625, compared with $45,461 for the town’s renters.

The Hill Way project would provide much-needed housing for families attracted to one of the best school districts in Maine, MacAuslan said. And tax-increment financing would ensure that property taxes generated by the new development would be directed to infrastructure improvements in the town center, such as sidewalks, trees and public spaces, she said.

“These are good problems to have,” MacAuslan said. “It speaks to the fact that we’re in a period of economic growth.”

HEARING NEIGHBORS’ CONCERNS

The town has a total of 306 multifamily units, according to the latest U.S. Census data, which is 7 percent of the town’s housing stock. That’s the same percentage reported in the 2007 comprehensive plan, which said single-family homes made up 90 percent of the town’s housing stock.

Zev and Amber Myerowitz purchased the property at 12 Hill Way for $915,000 in 2014, according to the town assessor’s records. They plan to preserve the two-family home at the corner of Hill Way and Scott Dyer Road. They don’t own the former Cumberland Farms property.

The two proposed buildings would be connected by a covered pedestrian walkway. Cape Chiropractic would occupy the larger, 3,789-square-foot office space, which would have six two-story apartments above, Zev Myerowitz said. The practice would either expand to the 2,416-square-foot office space in the second building or lease it for a similar office use.

“Our office has done very well here (in Cape Elizabeth) and we would like to continue to grow,” Myerowitz said. The practice, which opened in 2012 and has a six-member staff, recently added an associate member, Kyle Neagle, also a chiropractor and a Maine native.

The second building would have four two-story apartments upstairs. Overall, nine apartments would have two bedrooms and one would have one bedroom. Town zoning allows as many as 18 apartments on the lot, according to WBRC Architects and Engineers of Portland.

Rental rates haven’t been set, but they would reflect the local market for new apartments, Myerowitz said. The median gross rent in Cape Elizabeth is $1,046 per month, according to 2010-2014 census data.

The cost of the project also hasn’t been finalized, although construction is scheduled to start by late summer or early fall with a tentative move-in date of June 2017, Myerowitz said.

Cape Chiropractic is now located at 2 Davis Point Lane, where the couple also live. The practice would operate weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the new location. Traffic generated by patients would be about six to eight cars per hour, Myerowitz said, in part because typical chiropractic and acupuncture sessions are often longer than medical appointments.

The couple plan to move into one of the apartments at 12 Hill Way and be hands-on landlords. They intend to select tenants carefully, Myerowitz said, and make sure neither the commercial nor residential aspects of the complex have an adverse impact on the neighborhood.

“We fully respect that neighbors have concerns and it’s up to us to be as responsive as possible,” he said.

 


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